It seems that we spend most of our life learning. Elementary school, high school, university, night courses. When we finally enter the working world, we have orientation sessions, and training courses. The only reprieve seems to occur during our vacations. I however, am the exception.
Fellow Toastmasters, welcome guests… my Icebreaker speech this afternoon will relate to you, the life lessons I learned while on my vacation.
I’ve always wanted to see Europe, but my childhood family vacations took me only as far as Florida… by car. Since I’d never been off the continent before, I wanted to start with something simple, and non-threatening: England. I decided on a bus tour, and picked Contiki, which caters exclusively to people between 18 and 35.
The tour started in London, England, and I quickly discovered that we were a very cosmopolitan group. Aside from Canadians and Americans, there were travellers from Mexico, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Israel.
Let me backtrack a little and tell you about the experiences I’ve had regarding my ethnicity. A while ago a lady commented that I had a “cosmopolitan face”. She explained that I don’t look like I come from anywhere specific in the world. If she had seen me walking down the street in Venezuela, she would assume that I was a local, and start speaking Spanish. If I were spotted in Israel, she would speak Hebrew.
This explains a lot. From the time I was in high school people have asked me all kinds of strange questions about my genetic makeup. Various people, at various times thought I was part Asian, part Native Canadian and even part black. Some less than diplomatic people would simply approach me and ask “What are you anyway?”.
I’d reply “I’m Canadian!”.
They would return with “No — I mean, where were you born?”
I’d say “Toronto”
Growing increasingly frustrated, they would counter with “OK – where were your parents born?”
“They were also born in Toronto”
The interrogation would continue until I finally capitulate and admit that my mother’s side of the family is Polish, and my father’s side is Ukrainian. Then interrogator would then look me up and down as if to say “Aha — so that’s what Polish and Ukrainian look like, when you put them together”… as if they were in an art class, mixing primary colours.
However, they were also happy because I had been compartmentalized. They knew my makeup, and were now more at ease around me. I find this amusing, but some people just aren’t comfortable around me until they know my component parts. Then they’re fine.
So back to my vacation. Soon after our bus pulled out of London, we started introducing ourselves to each other. After our names, the first question was usually “Where are you from?”.
After I replied “Canada”, I braced myself for the interrogation… but it wasn’t forthcoming. To my utter surprise, “Canada” was good enough for everyone else on the tour — except the other Canadians. Apparently, that was all the information they needed to compartmentalize me!
What I learned on my vacation was that we Canadians actually do have an identity, but in order to see it, we have to leave the country and travel to other parts of the world.